Episode 128B – Roger Leslie – Stellar Starts and Fine-Tuned Finishes

Overview

Roger discusses a problem many authors face – starting strong but not finishing. Or not knowing how to finish. We talk about tactics that can be used to help finish your book.

His Book

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Transcript

So before we get onto our topic of discussion let me move my notes a little bit. What have you learned that you’re doing different now about writing publishing than when you first started? Not necessarily clear back in eighth grade, but your books now.

Roger: The more I write, the more I trust my own instincts to just begin the process and watch it unfold.

When I wrote my first, I set a goal to write my first novel before I graduated from high school. And I when I’m focused and when I have a goal, I am driven. And so I used to race home from school every day. By that time, my parents had bought me a little portable electric type. And I had it on the floor in my bedroom.

And I would sit crosslegged and I would put the paper in the roller. And I was typing. And I was 17 years old at the time. And I remember one day my conscious mind was looking down at my fingers on the keys. And the keys seemed to be moving and my fingers and the keys were, seemed to be moving on their.

And it frightened me a little bit cause I was only 17 and I wasn’t, didn’t know much about the creative process and I thought, is this a form of, I was really

Stephen: concerned, very much is a form of madness.

Roger: My, this symbolizes the crux of the creative process. So what I’ve learned and what I allow myself to do more and more is to get my conscious mind out of the way, to clear my conscious mind as much as I possibly can, cuz that’s where my editor resides.

The editor in me, resides in my conscious mind and let the, that spiritual and creative energy flow so that when I’m working on my first draft, things just move and low and behold. Things that I couldn’t have figured out or necessarily worked out in an outline. They worked themselves out in that first draft.

Not that the first draft is ready for publication by any means. There are several revisions that need to happen, but you don’t have anything to edit and revise until you’ve got that draft. So the most important lesson I learned that I’d like to share with your listeners is in the creative process, Let it flow.

Open up and let it.

Stephen: And that’s a difficult state. You have to write a lot, do a lot of sitting down and doing it before you get into that flow. And athletes talk about that. I know doctors, brain, surgeons and stuff will talk about it. They get into that state of just un, their consciousness almost just goes by itself.

You can. It’s hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. Yeah.

Roger: And it takes experience and it interesting that you bring up the idea of athletes because one of the analogies that I use with the people that I, when I teach my writing courses or when I coach my, is I say your creative muscles are like your physical muscles.

When you first start exercising, you really have to motivate yourself to go to the. And you’re just learning how to use the equipment and it hurts afterwards because you’re not used to using those muscles. But if you do it consistently, then your muscles get attuned to what you’re doing and they get stronger and they get better, even better.

They start hungering to do that on a consistent basis. So if you work out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then I can guarantee after a few. Thursday night, your muscles your system is getting ramped up because it knows you’re gonna get up Friday morning and work out and it needs to be ready.

Creativity works the same way. If you write consistently, if you have some kind of schedule and you stick to it consistently, then in time your creative energy start setting up for it. There are so many people who, when they’re on their schedule and they’ll start dreaming. Solutions to the complications in their plot that they couldn’t figure out on paper because their subconscious mind knows, Okay, he’s getting up at tomorrow morning and he’s gonna write that night.

Whatever I was working through or struggling with or couldn’t come up with, my subconscious just gave it to me in a dream because I’ve developed the creative muscle. We all have that same propensity to be able to do that, and so it just comes from. For overtime builds that muscle and strengthens that creativity.

So it gives to you as much as you give to it?

Stephen: Yes. And for me that getting that state is sometimes I go for a drive which is not necessarily the safest when I’m like, Oh, what city am I in? I was just like, zoned out. Not a good thing. and the other thing. I don’t wanna say I’m like admonishing and yelling at parents and teachers, but I think for kids in school, the same thing we talked about with the reading, the same with the writing.

That if we give a kid an assignment to make them right, and it has all these million strict guidelines, and you have to follow this word structure and this many long sentences and spell the words right and get the punctuation right. They’re so overloaded with rules and things they have to follow that they lose their creativity.

To write. I think especially the younger grades, they just need to write the spelling. I know tons of authors that can’t spell worth anything, but they have software that does it. And if we just encourage the kids and focus more on the creative writing, we’ll get so much better writers from the kids and they’ll enjoy it so much more.

Again, the way it’s handled in school. And this isn’t the teacher’s fault, it’s just how we’ve done it, but I don’t think. Teaching kids writing by diagramming sentences and doing spelling words is the best way to teach writing. They need to write. And then we worry about the rest of it. Cause then they’re excited and they can see the mistakes they made much easier.

Roger: That makes sense. And that works for adult writers as well.

Stephen: Yes it does. Yeah, I’ve tried to tell some other ones that, not that I always follow my own advice

Roger: So on, on that note, let me share with you. So these are the two basic rules I give to authors when they ask me about writing. I said, I say rule number one in the first draft.

Don’t get it right, get it written. The biggest mistake and the biggest hurdle that. Aspiring authors make that keep them from finishing that first draft and ever getting a book completed is they edit as they’re writing. If you can free your creative subconscious to just write everything and leave the editor behind until the revision state, you’ll get to where you need to go.

And I explained to my students and my, my. You don’t know what to revise until you get to the end. Cause everything, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, is building to a climactic scene or a major point. And until you get there and until you have that full first draft completed, then you really don’t know what to revise or edit.

So people who work on a chapter and then edit and revise and then work to the second. Most of that is wasted energy because you don’t know what actually you’re gonna have until you see the overarching story that you have, or very idea what persuasive argument making in your funnels.

Major point. And then the second rule that I share is rewriting is also real. I used to have this rule that, oh, I always had to be creating something new or it didn’t count. The revision process is as essential as the first draft creative process because the first draft, you’re writing something that means something to you.

Every revision you make after that, you’re recreating your work so it makes sense and has meaning for a reader. Both are equally.

Stephen: And I found myself after doing it through several iterations that some of my best writing was when I was editing and revising after I’d written it already. And that’s the stuff that came out the best that I liked.

I, a lot of people love first drafting, and then after that they don’t like the process. I’m like, Man I gotta slog through the first draft. And then it gets fun a totally different mindset. Now you mentioned the typewriter which I’m assuming you don’t use the typewriter to write all your stuff now.

So do you have any good software and services that you like that you’d recommend? I

Roger: do everything on Microsoft Word. I just write in Microsoft Word, and that’s still the standard for the industry so far as I know. When you send something to your formatter if you’re going to be self-publishing or if you own a publishing house, as I.

And you have a formatter. They’re transferring things from one program to another to get it into the shape that it needs to be to go to print. If you have it in Microsoft Word, that’s the standard that it’s easy, it’s easiest to convert from there. Recently someone is currently working on the ebook for my first last year, and we couldn’t find because my computer crashed around the time of the pandemic and everything, when everything just imploded in my life of.

Which was turned out to be a blessing cuz I had to start fresh with everything. But the original Word document was missing. But I had that formatted from my printer cuz I had already sent those files to the printer and had the hard copies. So I was able to get that version from the printing company and then send it to the ebook creator.

She had to convert it to Word and then convert it to the Eub Wow. Version. So I don’t use any fancy software or anything. I just use the basic tools and then work with people who use the different tools to create the products we put out.

Stephen: Nice. Okay. And what are you doing to market your book?

Roger: I have publicists who work with me.

One is a social media expert. The other one is a publicist who gets me interviews like this one here. I love to do speaking engagements. I do, as I mentioned, In our first talk that wasn’t didn’t get recorded. I have a keynote speaker and I create original presentations where I can tie award-winning films to any topic or any group.

And I have publicists who do that with me and to make, to get the word out and to get me connected to the right people.

Stephen: Nice. Good. Okay, so our topic for discussion. Tell us what it is and why you chose this topic. Cause I always ask authors a topic that we can talk about on the second half.

And yours, yours is very catchy. Cute, almost. I like so why? So mine

Roger: is stellar starts and fine tune finishes. I like alliteration. It’s easy. It’s either, it’s easy to remember alliteration. So I use a lot of alliteration when it comes to science,

Stephen: right? Like Peter Parker . There

Roger: you go. .

Stephen: So why did you choose this as a topic for us and for other authors to hear about, learn about?

Roger: I’m sharing this mostly with aspiring authors, not necessarily seasoned authors because the most frequent questions I get from people who are thinking of writing books or have dreams of being writers but don’t really know how to start I think if they know how to begin. That’s a powerful tool.

And then another frequently asked question is, How do I know when this manuscript is done? How can I tell? And so those, the two issues that I thought would be most helpful to readers who were listening.

Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. And so the starting of a new book I’ve known some people that jump, they will get partway through a story and then jump to the next new thing, jump to the, and they do that or.

They work on it and then they’re working on it, changing this paragraph, this sentence, this for four years. So that seems to fiddle along the lines of why I started off really strong, but now I’m afraid to finish it. What would you tell those people about judging their own starts and finishes to books.

Roger: That’s the example that I gave earlier. Their editor is getting in their editing mind is getting in the way of their writer. I know there’s some debate now about how much validity there is to the left brain, right brain mentality, but it’s a good analogy. So I’ll go ahead and use it.

So here’s a good, here’s a good test that you can give yourself. If in school you tended to enjoy math and science better, you’re probably more left brain, if you tended to enjoy English and history better, you’re probably more right. You might be wondering, what does that mean left brain people?

Your left brain thinks in concrete sequential patterns, so it likes to organize things. It likes to outline your right brain likes to just jump right in and just do stuff. So the key to a successful writing career, I believe, is to be able to use both sides of your brain effectively. And so to do that, I recommend that if you know you tend to be right brain.

Then just dive right in and start writing. If you have an idea for a book, at minimum I usually have an idea of where I want the book to end. It’s Okay, if this book is about such and such, then how do I want it to conclude? And then I just sit at the typewriter and just start moving through it.

That’s if you’re more right brain. If you’re more left brain, then you would benefit from outlining some ideas. Come up with some ideas and think, Okay, if I wanna write whether this is for fiction or nonfiction, it’s what are some of the things that are important to me? What’s this book about?

What genre is it in? What elements of that genre have to be there for it to fit into what the reader’s expectations are? And outline your ideas, set the outline aside, and then start writing. The idea though is we each tend to. We favor one type of thinking over the other. So if you know which type of thinking your brain favors, you can enhance your chances of getting started by using the ones are familiar and

Stephen: nice and which one are you, Which do you tend to lean towards?

Roger: It’s interesting you ask that. I think I’m a little bit unusual in. I was at a teacher in service one year, and we had to line ourselves up in relation to other people on where we thought we fit on the spectrum. I was at the extreme of either one, because if you look at my closet, you would think, Oh my gosh, this guy is so left brain, which makes sense because I became a librarian.

All my shirts are solid striped pattern dark to light, very. So in that way, I’m very left brain, but when it comes to writing or spiritual work or anything, my whole focus is let everything I think I know, push it to the side and just trust that there’s some bigger force that’s guiding me through what I’m doing.

Just sit down and write. So looking at a blank screen doesn’t intimidate me at. I just hit in front of that blank screen, put my fingers on the keyboard, and when inspiration hits it just starts going right. And I think I’m a little bit like you also, I’m a computer programmer database guy, so it’s very logical and structured.

Stephen: My closet is not like that though, . But I also have a lot of creativity. I played d and D when I was young, and I would rather sit down and create a dungeon module than just prop my feet up and watch football So I’ve got a little of both of those going on, and I think for other writers, People hear advice from someone who’s been doing this while, or someone that’s been successful or has books out and, oh they outline, so I’ve gotta outline, but it doesn’t fit and work with them.

Or they, Oh, that person uses this software. I better use that software. It’s good in that you try things and experiment, but everybody’s different. You really have to find what works best for you and embrace it and just use. Without using excuses don’t say, Oh, it’s the afternoon. I just low period in the afternoon, so I don’t do any writing on these days.

That’s now copying out an excuse and you gotta realize that too. Yes, it takes some experience.

Roger: I think the most important thing a writer can do is just trust is or her own instance. If it feels right to you and it seems like something that will work, try that and trust. Yes.

Stephen: So to finish up a book, what recommendations do you have for an op or that is done and has gone back and reread it and messed with it, and then went back and reread it and changed some things and they’re in this continuous loop cycle of it could be better, I can improve it, I can do something better.

What would you say to them?

Roger: First of all, you could always, we could always improve anything we. Everything that we write, if we reread it five years later, if we can’t see things that we would do better five years later, we’re not growing as a writer and we should. So it’s always going to be as good as it can be at that stage in your life, but not necessarily as good it can ever.

So when people ask me, how do I know when I’m finished? First, I wanna just. Aspiring writers and writers aware that when you spend months or years on a manuscript, you become very emotionally attached to the work and the process, so it can be very difficult to let it go. Sometimes authors just keep working and reworking something because they’re too intimidated to set it free.

Yes, and send it out to publishers or to their beta readers, or to whomever. They’re just they’re blocked by the intimidation of getting that work out. So I just say that to, to let writers know that is part of the process. That part of the process is the creative process is letting go of something at a certain point and just trusting that it needs to get out there.

Cuz it’s not helping anybody if nobody else is reading it by you. Yes. And the other bit of advice that I give, and this is what works for me when people say how do I know when I’m. I know I’m done when I make changes in my manuscript and I make them different, but not necessarily bad. And what I know.

I reached my level of, this is as good as I can get right now. I have to trust that it’s as good as it needs to be to help the people I’m writing for. Send that one off to your publisher or work on the self publication events through route you’re taking and then start your next.

Stephen: Something that I had to come and realize myself is reading books that I enjoy.

Stephen King. I’ve read him since I was like 10. Recently I’ve picked up some Kevin J. Anderson books which I’ve always enjoyed when he wrote Star Wars and XFiles and stuff But I’m reading these and I, an exercise I’ve done with others is just open one of your favorite books. And find a page or paragraph or whatever and read it.

And then rewrite it and rewrite it so it’s very cut and dried and not interesting. Write it very flowery and just exercise of just rewrite it. And you really come to realize that everything can be rewritten 10 different ways. Yeah. And it says the same thing, but it’s how your voice is. And you have to kinda let that go.

And then I’ve read. Books. King’s a good example where I read a sentence and I’m like, That sentence sucked. If I was a teacher, I’d mark that sentence wrong. It, it’s not written in it but it’s one sentence out of usually an 800 page book. Yeah. And you don’t remember that one sentence at the end.

It’s the overall story. So if King could write crappy sentences, but have good stories for the most part and other Kevin J. Anderson and Riling she gets dinged all the time. Her grammar isn’t good and this isn’t good. But everybody loved and read it, so guess what? She wins. Yeah. That’s way more important and it’s taking me a while to understand that if I go back through and I add a couple commas or I rearrange a sentence or two, nobody’s go care, remember.

And it will not improve this story. Exactly.

Roger: A bit of advice that I read years ago, I’m paraphrasing it, but William Faulkner said if any book he ever completed. Was ever as good as how he imagined it would be when he started it, he said, My career would be over. The creative process is always that hunger to get it as good as you imagine it when you first start creating something, and we never can quite get there, but that’s what keeps us writing.

Yeah. That keeps the whole process exciting because next time we can do better and we will do better if we stay in the practice of writing. Yes. You

Stephen: gotta keep writing. Great. Roger this has been really fun and great talking to you. But before we go do you have any we had a discussion on lots of topics, but do you have any last minute advice you’d give to new authors out there?

Roger: Yes, one, start the process and stick to a regular schedule. There are two ways you can do. Either decide you’re gonna write a certain amount of time every week, or you’re going to create a certain number of words every week, but choose the schedule that fits for you and don’t waiver from that. I guarantee if you get on a schedule and you follow it consistently, you will finish the novel or a non-fiction book much faster than you ever imagined possible.

It just happens. You get in the flow and it develops. It gets easier, it gets faster, and before Your first draft is done.

Stephen: Nice. Yep. Good. Great. And I hope some people listen to that and I hope it helps. I wish you luck on your book. We’ll put links to in the show notes for everyone to go check it out.

And I appreciate you getting on and chatting with me today twice for some parts of it, .

Roger: Thanks Steven. This was fun. Thank you. Yeah, thank you.

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